Practical advice on helping a loved one through a miscarriage

Woman comforts her friend

I’ve never had a miscarriage. Although, statistically speaking, I would be exceptionally lucky if I don’t have one. Especially as I’m not finished having children.

While I’ve never had a miscarriage, people around me have. And it can sometimes be hard to figure out what to say.

Up to one in four confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage. However, the actual number of miscarriages in Australia is probably much higher. Many women actually miscarry a baby without having realised they were pregnant.

I understand how grief works

Despite never having had a miscarriage, I’ve experienced my fair share of grief.

I’ve lost my mum and my maternal grandmother, as well as several extended family members. I understand how grief works. And although I don’t understand how it feels to lose a child, and the future associated with that little human developing inside you, I have some sense of how losing a child goes against the natural order of life. When my mum passed away, all four of my grandparents were still alive. My nana and papa buried their daughter.

It’s more than the loss of a pregnancy

When I spoke to Janelle Moran from SANDS Australia, she said often this is one of the hardest things for parents going through a miscarriage. “Parents say that it’s the loss of their hopes and dreams, their future with that child, that they’re also grieving for. Not only the loss of the pregnancy itself but also the emotion that they’d invested in that future as a family. How do they regain that sense of identity after that?”

What’s the best way to support a friend through miscarriage?

So when it comes to comforting someone who has just had a miscarriage, what’s the worst thing you could do? Lessen the grief with comments such as ‘as least you can have another child’ or ‘some things aren’t meant to be’. “Those kinds of things are very difficult for parents to hear because they do gloss over the reality of miscarriage which is often very traumatic,” Janelle said. “Although the loss may be invisible to others, a pregnancy does not just disappear into thin air. A miscarriage can be both physically and emotionally traumatic and there are lots of things that can compound that trauma.”

When I asked Janelle what I should be saying to my friends if I’m ever approached about miscarriages, she advised that like most things in life, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Most of the time, it’s about using common sense. “Just be there and be sincere with your thoughts. Don’t try to say too much. Use very honest words.” It’s more about reading the situation and really feeding off how your friend is reacting. When it comes to grief, there’s no point side-stepping around the situation. To be frank, it’s a horrible situation to be in. And sometimes it’s enough to say “it’s crap and it’s going to be hard”.

Offer practical help but also read the situation

Of course, there are practical things you can do as well. But again, you need to read the situation. Some people will want to keep going through the movements of their everyday life. For them, there’s little point offering to cook or clean because it may be the very mundane things that are getting them through. For others, though, some meals delivered or a hand with care for other children may be a godsend. If you really can’t think of anything practical to do, just pick up the phone and have a chat.

I’ve been told that having a miscarriage is exhausting, physically, mentally and emotionally. Physically, a woman’s body is going through something exceptionally traumatic. Some are watching it happen before their very eyes and others are being wheeled into an operating theatre. It takes a toll on the body. And emotionally, there are very few words that can honestly describe the overwhelming feeling of grief.

It’s still a taboo topic

The biggest problem with helping friends and loved ones through a miscarriage is that, despite all the work going into changing this, it’s still a taboo topic. It’s difficult for people in the community to talk about, whether they’ve experienced one or not. “It’s confronting,” Janelle says. And a big problem associated with it all is that, while any pregnancy loss up to 20 weeks is considered a miscarriage, most miscarriages occur before 12 weeks which means not many people even know you’re pregnant. Realistically, when you’re supposed to be ringing around and telling people your lovely news, who actually wants to deliver the heartbreak of a miscarriage instead?

The taboo is also in the loss of innocence. I know, for me, the excitement started the moment I peed on those three sticks. But Janelle tells me that it’s that loss too. “It’s the loss of innocence when it comes to future pregnancies. Parents know that it’s not always the case that everything will be okay. It has a huge impact on how they navigate future pregnancies.”

There is a lot to be said for acknowledging the loss

I’m very much an outsider when it comes to miscarriage and I don’t claim to understand how it feels. But when I was grieving, sometimes all I really wanted was people to acknowledge how rough the situation was. And when I speak to friends who have gone through a miscarriage, they often say the same.

Perhaps this is what we, as outsiders, need to do. Acknowledge the pain, acknowledge that there’s not much we can do, acknowledge the trauma. Acknowledge that there once was a baby and now there isn’t. And simply be there.

You’re not alone

To everyone who has had a miscarriage, or if you’re currently going through one now, here’s what I say to you: you are not alone. There are millions of mothers and fathers out there who know what you are going through. Your grief is different to theirs, yes, but you are most definitely not alone. And for those of us who don’t intimately understand what you are going through, we’re here too. Don’t be afraid to talk to us.

If you’ve experienced pregnancy loss and need some extra support, contact SANDS on 1300 072 637.

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